Tiger Woods will partner Patrick Reed against Europeans Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood when the Ryder Cup gets underway in Paris Friday.
The resurgent Woods, who won his first tournament for five years on Sunday, will spearhead the USA’s attempt to successfully defend the Ryder Cup and win on European soil for the first time in 25 years.
Along with Reed, dubbed “Captain America” for his Ryder Cup exploits — the 28-year-old has a 6-2-1 record in the competition — Woods will play in the fourth fourball pairing Friday morning against Italian Molinari, who won the Open in July, and Englishman Fleetwood who was runner-up in the US Open in June.
Brooks Koepka, who successfully defended his US Open title at Shinnecock Hills and then held off Woods to win the PGA Championship at Bellerive this season, and Tony Finau will begin for Jim Furyk’s powerful USA side against world No. 2 Justin Rose and Jon Rahm.
They will be followed by Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler against Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen, with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the third match against Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton.
Woods, 42, played the last of his seven previous Ryder Cups in 2012 since when serious back issues have derailed his career.
His impressive performances this season earned him a wildcard pick as he looks to improve on a Ryder Cup record that reads played 33 matches, won 13, lost 17 halved three. He has only played on one victorious team — at Brookline in 1999.
‘Passion, commitment, pride’
The match-ups were announced to an expectant worldwide audience by the two captains — Furyk and Europe’s Thomas Bjorn — at a lavish opening ceremony to mark the start of the 42nd Ryder Cup, the biennial matchplay event between 12 of the best players from either side of the Atlantic.
The competition, which switches between the US and Europe, is taking place in France for the first time, at Le Golf National to the southwest of Paris.
During his speech on a stage in front of a vast crowd near the golf course, Denmark’s Bjorn spoke of how the Ryder Cup is unique in its ability to unite Europe — given the backdrop of political turmoil as Britain prepares for Brexit.
“This is the one time we play under that flag and this is the week more than any other that that flag truly represents the boundaries of all of Europe,” said Bjorn.
“This great continent can, at times, be a fragmented place. When it comes to the Ryder Cup it is different, when it comes to the Ryder Cup, Europe stands as one. ”
He added: “To everyone throughout Europe, we make this pledge: we’ll play with passion, we’ll play with commitment, we’ll play with pride but more than anything this week we’ll play for that flag.”
‘Honor and distinction’
Europe has won six of the last eight events, but the USA hit back with a stunning 17-11 victory at Hazeltine, Minnesota two years ago and is widely touted as hot favorite, despite Europe’s home crowd advantage.
The Ryder Cup is unlike other golf tournaments and generates huge passions from loud, boisterous and partisan fans on both sides.
About 270,000 spectators are expected to attend this week, with 620 million households tuning in on TV around the world, making it the third most watched sporting event behind Olympics and the football World Cup.
Furyk began his speech by recalling the close historic ties between the United States and France, pointing out that the players will be using bags emblazoned with pictures of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France to the people of America in 1886.
The nine-time Ryder Cup veteran, addressing his players sitting on the stage next to him, added: “Gentleman, I am proud to serve as your captain. I know you’ll represent our game and your country with honor and distinction.”
The showpiece occasion marked the end of three days of intriguing build up, as players practiced in various combinations, observers speculated on the outcome of the tournament, fans warmed up their voices and the teams attended official functions, including Wednesday’s glittering gala dinner at the nearby Palace of Versailles.
The ceremony, under blazing September sun, began with music from the Kaiser Chiefs, a fly-past by French air force jets trailing red, white and blue smoke and a rendition of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.
Host David Ginola, a former French football star, welcomed the captains and then introduced video vignettes of the teams before the players filed onto the stage.
The USA team wore white slacks, navy blazers, light blue shirts and navy ties, while the Europeans were in navy suits with white shirts and black ties.
Most of the players on both sides sported shades. All wore yellow ribbons to mark the tragic slaying of Spanish golfer Celia Barquin Arozamena this month.
The players’ partners and the team’s sets of vice-captains were also seated at the back of the stage.
Furyk introduced his players alphabetically, starting with rookie Bryson DeChambeau. The biggest cheer by far was for the last man to his feet, Woods. Chants of “U-S-A” forced Furyk to pause before he ended, “Let the Ryder Cup begin, vive le golf.”
Bjorn took to the lectern and had to wait as the crowd serenaded him with a thunderous rendition of “Ole, ole, ole,” — the unofficial European Ryder Cup anthem.
“I’ve never felt prouder than I do now, standing here as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain. I’m thrilled to be able to do it against the backdrop of one of the greatest cities in the world.
“From hitting golf balls off the Eiffel Tower as Jim and I did last year, to dining in the Palace of Versailles, it has been truly magical.”
Bjorn then introduced his players, with the crowd reserving the loudest roars for Rory McIlory and Ian Poulter, who has been one of Europe’s driving forces in recent Ryder Cups.
The final act was for the two captains to reveal their pairings for the opening fourball session — where each player hits his own ball and the best score counts.
Four foursomes matches — in which players use the same ball and hit alternate shots — follow on Friday afternoon with the same pattern on Saturday.
All 12 players will compete in Sunday’s head-to-head singles matches.
The first team to win 14.5 points will clinch the Ryder Cup. For the defender, 14 points will retain the Cup.